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The 1980 Mariel Boatlift brought thousands of

Surreal South Beach struts its art deco style in Miami

On the phone with the night manager at a Miami Beach hotel, I ask him to speak up. Again. is clearly a three martini time zone away. Music muffles the sound of people talking high quality designer replica handbags , laughing, clinking bottles, and even”splashing? Perhaps my call has reached the poolside bar by mistake. No, he confirms, this is the front desk. “Do you have any quiet aaa replica designer handbags rooms?” I ask cautiously. “Madam,” he answers politely, “if you’re looking for quiet, you might want to stay somewhere outside of South Beach.”

No doubt Britney Spears isn’t concerned about noise levels when she checks into one of South Beach’s many swank hotels. The three kilometre long triangle that forms the southern tip of Miami Beach is known as party central, with beautiful people lounging at stylish hotel bars, celebrity run restaurants, and chic nightclubs.

I first became intrigued by South Beach when I saw the 1996 movie The Birdcage. The opening sequence zooms over the Atlantic to neon buzzed Ocean Drive, jammed with cars, scooters, and pedestrians, and through the doors of the transvestite cabaret. That fictional club’s faade is that of the real life (now vacant) Carlyle Hotel, one of dozens of art deco structures that draw those who appreciate art and architecture to South Beach. Artsy types who cringe at Miami Vice and Don Johnson’s pastel jackets and woven shoes might be surprised to learn that the 1980s series is partly responsible for reviving the once dangerous, dilapidated district.

Since I want to explore South Beach’s art deco on a good night’s sleep, I take the desk clerk’s advice and book a hotel just north of the action. When I arrive in Miami on a Saturday evening several weeks later, I get an unexpected tour of South Beach as the airport shuttle drops off passengers who, like me, are not hip enough to take a limo. The scene isn’t as frenzied as imagined in The Birdcage (or perhaps things just haven’t gotten going yet), but it’s undeniably glamorous. Palm trees sway over the outdoor restaurants that line Ocean Drive; servers weave through tables with trays of colourful drinks; heels and cleavage flash.

In rapid succession, two scenes unfold that I have only previously seen in fashion and gossip magazines. Three utterly stunning women stride down the sidewalk, tossing lush manes of hair behind them as if in a shampoo commercial. They must be models, because they appear to be of another species, with their replica louis vuitton bags from china fawnlike limbs, perfect proportions, and immaculate grooming. Then, as we idle at a stoplight, a young woman who might as well be Britney with her dirty blond ponytail, acid wash cutoffs, and high quality designer replica handbags wholesale skanky tank top argues with her boyfriend while placing her fake designer bags Chihuahua in a Louis Vuitton dog carrier. The British tourist in the seat behind me sniffs. “You can’t buy taste,” she mutters.

Perhaps not, but style is Perfect Quality Louis Vuitton Replica everywhere in South Beach, and often free for the looking. The posh art deco hotels mesh original period details with high fashion touches. Even mid range boutique hotels carefully fluff their lobbies. My renovated 1939 deco hotel throws together crimson walls, high white banquettes, metallic coloured chairs, turquoise barstools, and a caramel shag carpet. Somehow, it works.

The following morning, I discover that even the beach wears accessories. Adorably funky, geometric lifeguard stands dot the long expanse. One hut is painted bubble gum pink and papaya, another striped tangerine and lime, 1:1 replica handbags another American flag style with red and white stripes. I make my way to the Art Deco Welcome Center just behind the sand dunes on Ocean Drive, and sign up for a walking tour of the deco district.

The centre serves as the headquarters of the nonprofit Miami Design Preservation League, which calls itself the guardian of Miami Beach’s historic architectural district. Established in 1976, the society offers education and cultural programs on design, preservation, and urban development, and hosts the annual Art Deco Weekend festival every January.

What exactly is art deco? According to the organization’s Web site, it’s a style that became popular after a design and decorative art exhibition held in Paris in 1925. The term refers to several distinct periods from the 1920s to the 1940s. Think Fred and Ginger, slender cigarettes, replica louis vuitton bags from china and glitzy skyscrapers. The style’s modish hallmarks include symmetry, curved edges and corners, and ziggurat (stepped) rooflines.

Three architectural styles predominate in South Beach’s deco district: classical art deco, as described above; Spanish influenced Mediterranean revival; and MiMo (Miami modernism), with its Jetsons like Swiss cheese cutouts and kidney shapes. Then there’s nautical deco, which injects buildings with a feeling of movement, paying tribute to grand ships with curved lines, fake smokestacks, porthole windows, and railings.

Our volunteer tour guide, Mercy Restani , explains that South Beach became an art deco haven after a hurricane levelled the area in 1926 and builders started anew. “This is the poster child for art deco,” she says, pointing to the 1938 Congress Hotel, a whitewashed, three storey building with its name running vertically in a black on white marquee down the centre. “It’s perfectly symmetrical on both sides, like a piece of toast. You could cut it in half and fold it over.” Decorative “eyebrows” over the windows are another signature touch. “All the beauty is in the front,” Restani notes. “The sides are just like a shoebox.”

Preservation efforts prompted legislation requiring that art deco buildings maintain the original sign, and that any structural additions blend seamlessly with deco style. This has been remarkably successful, and even hotels that are now run by generic chains still appear charmingly retro.

Restani explains that this wasn’t always such an endearing district. In the ’60s and ’70s, it fell into economic decline, and the poor and the elderly inhabited the crumbling hotels. The 1980 Mariel Boatlift brought thousands of refugees from Cuba to Miami, many of them “undesirables” from the nation’s prisons who became squatters in South Beach.

Then in the mid ’80s, Miami Vice director Michael Mann began repainting the buildings in ice cream pastels as backdrops for his scenes. Developers and the fashion industry took notice. “It brought the rest of the country down here,” Restani says of the show’s influence. Notoriety followed tourism. We pause at Casa Casuarina, a gaudy mansion that was once cheap louis vuitton bags from china uk the home of South Beach resident Gianni Versace louis vuitton copy bags uk , who was shot dead on his doorstep in 1997. The mansion is now a private club. Members “can go in and cheap louis vuitton bags from china have a cup of coffee cheap replica handbags for $45”, Restani says.

Raised in Miami and now a Miami Beach resident, Restani has seen much of South Beach’s renaissance firsthand and the change is far from over. Cutting edge fashion dictates that interiors never stay the replica louis vuitton same for long. The art deco hotels are “constantly renovating, upgrading, selling”, she says. Empty faades like the Carlyle’s hint of things to come in this case, ultra luxe condos.

But most visitors to South Beach are concerned less about the future than the present. Sun, sand, style, and sex against a backdrop of architectural eye candy it’s not quiet, but it sure is pretty.

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